UNT to hold symposium on campus history of Latinos

DENTON (UNT), Texas — During the 1950s, North Texas State College was not only admitting its first African American students, but also its first Latino students, becoming one of the first colleges or universities in the Southwest to become integrated.
A free symposium at the University of North Texas Sept. 21 (Friday) will focus on the history of Latino student organizations and leadership at the university.
“Raíces: History of Raza at UNT” is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Forum on the first floor of UNT’s Willis Library, which is located at 1506 W. Highland St., one block east of Highland Street and Avenue C. The symposium is open to 75 participants, and advance registration is required at the symposium website.
Richard Menchaca, one of the first Latino students to attend North Texas on an athletic scholarship, will be the symposium’s keynote speaker. A member of the track team, Menchaca set a school record in the 880-yard run and led the distance medley relay team to a record-setting victory as a sophomore. He became the track team’s captain as a senior.
Menchaca, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from North Texas in 1963 and 1964, recently published a memoir about his personal experience at North Texas, “Guardian Angel.”
Roberto Calderón, associate professor of history, and symposium co-chair, said that after North Texas admitted its first Latino students, who were primarily Mexican Americans, the number remained small for several decades, not reaching more than 1,000 until 1990.
With rapidly changing demographics in Texas, however, the number of Latino students at UNT is growing faster than in any previous period. In fall 2011, more than 5,500 Latinos were enrolled at UNT, comprising 15.5 percent of the total student body, Calderón said.
The symposium, he said, will be the first of its kind at UNT and will have a particular focus on Latino students during the 1990s and 2000s, although alumni from many different decades will be among the guest panelists.
“We’re hoping to connect different generations of Latino alumni and make the university a greater part of their lives,” Calderón said. “We’re hoping to make the symposium an annual event at the same time every year, during Hispanic Heritage Month, and focus students’ experiences different decades.”
The symposium’s title, “Raíces,” or “roots” in Spanish, comes from an oral history project that Calderón and symposium co-chair Gloria Contreras, retired professor of teacher education and administration, have directed. The two have interviewed 17 Latino alumni about their campus experiences, including the first Mexican-American student to play football.
The symposium will include a panel discussion on the evolvement of Hispanic student organizations. The first group, Los Chicanos, formed in April 1970 “to meet the social, cultural and educational needs of Mexican-American students,” according to the 1970 Yucca yearbook. This group was later known as La Causa, the Mexican-American Student Organization, Hispanic Students for Higher Education, and Association of Latino American Students, remained the only organization focusing specifically on Hispanic students for more than two decades.
Today, UNT has 10 organizations tailored for Hispanic students, including four fraternities, two sororities and several business and professional organizations.
The topics for the symposium’s other panel discussions are the history of Latino music at UNT, including the beginnings of Mariachi Águilas, UNT’s student mariachi group; Hispanic professionals’ experiences as UNT students, featuring alumni from the 1970s,‘80s and 90s; and UNT regents, faculty members and others who forged a Latino presence at UNT.
The symposium will also provide participants with information on the UNT Libraries’ Latino/a Archives Initiative, which is one of three strategic focuses of the libraries’ special